Libby Strout needs to start over.
Being labelled "America's Fattest Teen" and having the world watch on television as a back-hoe rips a hole in the side of your house so you can simply leave the house would make anyone feel like a fresh beginning.
Thrown in the heart-crushing reality that her mum is dead and you've got an epic level potential for depression. Still, Libby feels she's ready to go back to high school, make new friends and try new things.
Jack Masselin appears to have it all, good looks, the most popular friends and a great girlfriend. All of that's just surface trash, though. Underneath, Jack's dealing with the fact that his dad is cheating on his mum while trying to survive cancer, his brother's being picked on at school and oh yeah, he has Prosopagnosia - the inabilty to read faces.
It's not like he looks at someone and it's just a blank face, it's that he can't remember facial details. He could turn his head for a second and forget who everyone is in the room if he doesn't have the right identifiers. Yes, this is a real thing and it sounds awful. Even worse, Jack hasn't told anyone about it, he's just tried to survive without telling anyone.
Both Jack and Libby feel really alone and out of place in the world, then they meet and realise that they don't have to be.
I enjoy Jennifer Niven's writing, it's fluid and pained but still makes you want to connect with the characters. I think part of this book is about figuring out that everyone is dealing with something, nobody's life is perfect and that to really get to know someone is something special to cherish. It's also about the dangers of fat-shaming and putting labels on people, bullying and all of the nasty stuff that comes with that.
If you enjoyed her pervious work, All the Bright Places, you'll certainly enjoy Holding Up the Universe!
I recommend this book to ages 15 +.
Get ready to feel conflicted.
It's 1936 and the Nazis are in full swing. They're three years into what will become the infamous Lebensborn (Fount of Life) program. The program's aim is to complete Hitler's vision of a pure Aryan race based on Nazi health and racial ideology.
Unmarried women are brought to facilities to be impregnated, the babies are then adopted by carefully selected parents that will install in the children Nazi values.
This is when we meet Max, in the womb of his mother. He's already got things figured out, how he'll help the Third Reich crush its enemies when he's strong enough. At least, he thinks he does.
Born on Hitler's birthday and possessing all of the qualities of a perfect Aryan baby, Max is untouchable, the perfect Nazi gift. Hitler himself visits the hospital to see the amazing specimen that is Max.
As Max gets older, he's given special tasks, being the chosen one and all. He's sent undercover to "Germanification" camps, places where the Hitler Youth are trained to fight in future wars against the unsure. Max's job is to weed out the weaklings and see if anyone is plotting against the regime in any way possible.
Everything changes when Max meets Lukas. Without spoiling too much, Lukas is the Cool Hand Luke (probably aptly named) character of the camp. He refused to acknowledge the perfection of the Reich and openly rebels against it.
At first, Max hates Lukas and the way he flaunts his independent thinking. As the horrors of war draw nearer, however, Max is torn between the propaganda he was born into and the reality he sees before him.
I really loved this novel. It makes you feel empathy for a character who, initially at least, embraces everything evil about the Nazi regime. It is a really heartbreaking story that will make you angry and teary at the same time.
This is an important book that's based on true events: over 200,00 children were kidnapped from their homes by Nazi nurses (The Brown Sisters) in occupied countries to be "Germanized" during the war. The names of the organizers of the Fount of Life program, Max Sollman and George Ebner, were real people who were found not guilty of any criminal activity during the Nuremberg trials.
A must read for anyone interested in the Second World War and the brutality it brought upon the people of Europe, Germans and all.
I'd recommend this novel to Years 10 and up.
Just before Pink Floyd move into "Comfortably Numb" on The Wall, Roger Waters' voice comes barreling through a filter asking, "Is there anybody out there?"
That sound, that droning melancholy flowing out of his voice followed me around as I read Radio Silence by Alice Oseman.
It's a great book.
There has always been two sides to Frances. There's school Frances who studies like a machine in order to take English lit at the best universities in the country. Then there's private Frances who loves to make art and listen to her favourite podcast Universe City.
When she meets the shy, stylish and mysterious Aled, both of those worlds start to overlap. Then she finds out that Aled is the creator of Universe City and her life changes forever.
For the first time she can be herself and has seemingly found true friendship. When Universe City becomes internet famous, and France's role in it gets exposed by those around her. The bond she had with Aled becomes fragile.
Throw in a friend who goes missing, a control freak mother and a couple of road trips and you have a great read about young people facing the pressures of success and the black void that is the question: "What do I want to do with my life?"
I really loved this book. Although my school / university experience was way, way different in Canada, anyone not sure what they want to do with themselves after high school will relate. The writing is honest and sharp, the characters speak like real teenagers which is a refreshing change in a world of YA literature where fifteen year olds sometimes talk like university professors.
Anyone that's ever felt like an outsider, that has felt the urge to create something while maintaining their integrity and not succumbing to the whims of public demand will feel something for this book and these characters. Don't miss it.
I recommend Radio Silence to Years 10 and up.
The King Slayer is the sequel to The Witch Hunter, which was one of my favourite YA fantasy novels from last year.
In this second instalment, we find former witch hunter Elizabeth Grey hiding in the village of Harrow. She's on the run from Lord Blackwell, who's put a bounty on her fair head.
Blackwell is still smarting from his last encounter with Elizabeth and well, he's pretty ticked off. So much so that he's declared outright war with the wizards and witches that Elizabeth used to hunt but know calls her friends.
To make things worse, Elizabeth has lost her stigma, the magical power that essentially makes her invincible. To make things even worser (not a word) Elizabeth's friend John, a healer and all around solid dude, has been acting strange of late. He's moody, he's angry, and he seems bitter about something. Whatever his deal is, he's not acting like a healer at all. Yes, there's something strange going on with John for sure - don't worry, I won't spoil it! Either way, Elizabeth must face off against Blackwell and his men once and for all, no matter what the consequences may be.
I really enjoyed how human Elizabeth is in this novel, she makes rash decisions, she's stubborn, she screws up and pays for her mistakes. In short, she's young and she's human. It's a good addition to the Witch Hunter and I think that fans of Sarah J. Maas and Victoria Aveyard will really enjoy this series.
I recommend The King Slayer to Years 9 and up!
Let's face it, you always knew roller derby was cool. The speed, the action, the spills, the glorious, glorious puns. What's not to love? Roller Girl makes it even cooler with this sweet graphic novel from Victoria Jamieson.
Twelve year old Astrid's mom has a way of exposing her to art and culture - dragging her to museums, poetry readings and operas. One night, however, she surprises everyone when she takes Astrid and her best friend Nicole to watch roller derby.
Astrid is hooked. Nicole, not so much. When Astrid finds out that there's a roller derby camp being held nearby during the summer, she's even more excited. Astrid assumes Nicole will want to go too, but it turns out she has other plans. Plans that involve ballet camp and boys, not roller skates, helmets and war cries.
Astrid goes on alone, meeting new friends and practicing her heart out for the biggest night of her life - a real roller derby match in front of 500 people.
What I loved about this story was that not only does it involve realistic characteristics of a twelve year old - Astrid can be selfish, pig headed and also makes rash decisions, but that you actually learn about roller derby at the same time. I had no idea so much went into the routines, the hits and even the falls. It's up there with professional wrestling in its showmanship and spectacle.
It's fun read that anyone will enjoy, highly recommend it. Anyone in Years 7 and up will love this book!
A vein of ice runs through this entire novel. Not because it lacks heart, quite the opposite. It's because it's set in the wilds of frozen Russia where Feo and her mother Marina tend to wolves that have been outcast by the Tsar's aristocratic government and the wealthy elite that reside there.
Living on their own, isolated from civilization, Feo and Marina are tough, human-wary folk interested in minding their own business and helping wolves.
After Feo befriends Ilya, a young solider defecting from the army, everything changes. Ilya starts to learn to trust and respect the wolves, not hunt them like the other soldiers.
Then one day Rakov, the army commander and his men come, burn down Feo's home and take Marina away to prison. Now, with the help of her three wolf companions and Ilya, Feo must embark on a suicide mission into the heart of the army's stronghold to get Marina back. Along the way they meet fiesta revolutionaries, dangerous soldiers and children willing to risk their lives to help their cause.
The Wolf Wilder is a story that insists on being read by a roaring fire next to a dog for company. Hopefully your own dog. Don't go and kidnap someone's dog.
You can feel the icy windy rip around your neck and face as Feo trudges half-dead to safety after her home is burned down by Rakov. You'll lean forward with excitement as she rallies her little army of misfits against him and his men. It's a great story that deserves the praise it's been getting.
I recommend this to Year 7 students and up!
I loved Fantasy Sports, I'd never heard of it before in my life and decided to buy it for the library based solely on the cover.
I'm glad I did. It's like Big Trouble in Little China if Kurt Russell had to play a game of basketball to defeat Lo Pan.
Wiz and Mug are an unlikely pair. Wiz is a small, snarky, intelligent wizard with a lot to prove. She's working for Mug, a Zangief-esque brute who thinks with his fists before his head.
As treasure hunters, they're always looking for a good haul. One fateful afternoon they stumble across a tomb containing an ancient puzzle, breaking through it, they enter an ancient arena ruled by a demon with the greatest basketball skills anyone has ever seen.
If Mug and Wiz are going to leave the arena with their skin still attached to their bones, they're gonna have to beat the demon in the greatest basketball rivalry since the 1984 Lakers & Celtics.
This book's the most fun you'll have in the library all day long, I can't wait to get it into the hands of the students.
I'd recommend it for Years 8 and up.